A promise is a promise

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Last fall, my friend Melanthia asked me when I might return to Seattle.

We’d been colleagues at the Associated Press, where I was a staff photographer and she was a military reporter. I left the job and the state and had returned only periodically. For her wedding. To meet each of her three children. Her youngest is now four and it’s been nearly four years since I’d been back in the Emerald City.

Why, I asked.

I’m going to run the Seattle Rock ‘N’ Roll Half Marathon for my 40th birthday. OK., I said. I’m in. I’ll be there.

I said this in the fall of 2016. I had plenty of time to train. I knew what it would take and I knew I was nowhere near prepared. I had two marathons under my belt; they were both in the distant past. I was lighter, younger and better trained the last time I’d run any distance.

I had gained weight and lost muscle and endurance since I’d returned from Afghanistan in 2011. All my attempts at a return to fitness had fizzled and fallen short of my goals. I’d pushed too hard. I wrestled with too much stress.

I chose a fresh start with a new job in a new state in the fall of 2016. Melanthia and I now live in states that border different oceans on separate coasts, three time zones and a continent apart.

When I set a lofty goal, I draw inspiration from a quote by William Hutchison Murray from his 1951 book entitled The Scottish Himalayan Expedition. (The original of the couplet at the end, which Murray attributes to Goethe, has been debated.)

“Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favour all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamt would have come his way. I have learned a deep respect for one of Goethe’s couplets:
Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it.
Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it!”

I had my share of setbacks and excuses to bail. I hung onto the quote and my promise to my friend.

It took me several months to find a place to live. It looks several 20-hour solo roundtrips by car to move my things. By the end of the year, I hadn’t started training. I hadn’t even unpacked.

I had started shedding pounds though. I knew I needed to be lighter if I were going to pound the pavement for 13.1 miles. I started walking and I watched Melanthia’s posted training runs. My trepidation increased with her increasing mileage. I was not matching her miles or dedication.

By April, I still hadn’t run much and I hadn’t bought my airplane ticket. I called Melanthia. I didn’t want to let my friend down and I didn’t want to hold her back.

And yet, a promise is a promise.

Are you doing this? I wanted to know before I booked the ticket. I also wanted her to know that I wouldn’t be a pace-setting partner. I explained that I hadn’t trained enough and I wasn’t as fit as I once was.

We set a simple goal: finish the race. The race rules warn runners that they will be yanked if they don’t finish in under four hours.

I’m going to run-walk, she said. I can can keep pace–and keep her company, I thought. I booked my ticket.

Yesterday we picked up our race bibs and packets.

See you at the finish line.

 

 

 

 

 

You gotta rock the nap

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Outside the Box, a weekly column by Cheryl Hatch, copyright 2015

At the start of each semester, I give an empty schedule to the students in our classes. I ask them to fill in their commitments during the week. Classes. Work. Athletic practices and games. Clubs. Service organizations. Allegheny students embrace the college’s mantra of unusual combinations and that can lead to packed schedules. As a professor, I like to have an idea of what the students are balancing as they take on a deadline-driven journalism class.

When I arrived at Allegheny, I plunged into my new job. It wasn’t long before I decided to track my time to determine where it was going. I took the same empty schedule that I give the students and I filled in one each day. I devised a color-coded system to discover how I spent my time.

I chose red for work and colored all the blocks of time I dedicated to work activities, including lectures, meetings, grading, class preparation and advising the student journalists at The Campus.

Green marked activities such as cleaning, shopping, swimming and yoga: things that I consider necessary to healthy living. I chose blue for moments of true relaxation: reading a book, going for a walk, getting a pedicure. I tracked my time for a semester.

Warning, warning. Danger Will Robinson. My daily colored charts felt like a fire alarm, screaming red. My cousin would call me. “Are you having a blue day?” Translation: Are you taking time for yourself? No. Blue was missing in action.

As an Associated Press photographer, I covered major league sports, murders, Microsoft, forest fires and trials. I would sometimes have competing deadlines in different time zones around the globe.

When I covered a New York Yankees v. Mariners home game, for example, I’d sit in a well on the third base line, by the visiting team’s dugout. I’d need a photo of the Yankees’ pitcher from the top of the first for clients in New York. I’d shoot it, pull the card, download the photos and edit, all while keeping an eye on the game, talking to editors in New York and watching for foul balls. I’d caption the photo and transmit. Then I’d photograph Ichiro Suzuki, Seattle’s leadoff batter and rookie sensation from Japan. The media in Japan were hungry for images of Ichiro. I enjoyed the challenge and I rocked the coverage.

As a journalist, I learned to maximize time. If I had a spare minute, I found a way to use it. I carried this skill with me from Afghanistan to Allegheny, hence the hemorrhaging schedule.

The students keep busy schedules, too; however, I discovered they also mark time in their schedules to eat, work out and sleep. No matter how much work they have, the students make time for themselves. They take care of themselves.

When I’m on a story or a deadline, I can forgo food and sleep to finish. On a major story, I can work round-the-clock for days. In the past, I considered my ability to power through, tough it out it, a point of pride. Over time, this deprivation becomes a habit, a destructive one.

Athletes understand the power of rest. After a tough workout, the body needs time to repair and recover. If an athlete doesn’t allow for down time, the mind and body eventually pay for it. Concentration suffers. Injuries occur. An illness invades. The same applies to journalists.

In The Campus newsroom, the students take breaks. They extoll the virtues of a nap.

A nap? Sleeping in the middle of the day? Ridiculous.

Students have told me if they have a spare 15 to 20 minutes or an hour, they’ll take a nap. If I have any spare time, I’ll find something to fill it. I’ll grade papers, write a letter, answer emails.

This semester I’m following the students’ lead. I make sure I make time for lunch. When I have a bit of down time, I take a short nap. It’s not ridiculous. It’s remarkable. The short break and rest are restorative.

Last Thursday night, I met with The Campus student editors. They didn’t have a paper to publish before fall break, so we had scheduled time for an extensive critique of the latest issue. A number of students on staff are athletes who are usually coming from or going to a practice or workout on publication night. Meaghan Wilby, science/international editor, plays basketball. Chloe Kedziora, junior features editor, plays lacrosse. Joe Tingley, news editor, is a distance swimmer on the swimming and diving team.

After the meeting, I chatted with Joe, who also plays violin in the orchestra and writes regular blog posts for Allegheny Gator Blogs. I told him I had enjoyed reading his recent posts, which are thoughtful and personal. I mentioned that I’d started taking the occasional nap, something I’d learned from the students.

Even with his packed schedule, Joe finds time for nap each day—20 minutes is ideal.

“You gotta rock the nap,” he said.

Indeed. You gotta rock the nap.

Cheryl Hatch is a writer, photojournalist and visiting assistant professor of journalism in the public interest at Allegheny College.

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Giving hearts and lives to bear witness

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Outside the Box, a weekly column by Cheryl Hatch, copyright 2014

When students arrive for their news writing final, they learn the name of the person they’ll write about. They have a few minutes for research before they interview the subject of their profile. They write their stories and file them on deadline. The three-hour exam is a legitimate, real-time test of their journalism skills.

This year David Gilkey joined the class via Skype from Florida, where he was on assignment. Gilkey is photojournalist and video editor at National Public Radio, who has covered a broad range of stories, including the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The students peppered Gilkey with questions about his background, career and his personal life. They focused on his recent coverage of the Ebola outbreak in West Africa.

Wait a minute. Hold on, Gilkey said, at one point in the interview. The students watched as he removed his earphones. He paused, looked up toward the ceiling for a moment, then put the earphones back and returned to the interview.

Was that breaking news or a phone call? I asked. A phone call with news, Gilkey replied.

Gilkey completed the interview and gave the students his email address and responded to questions they had during their final. He stayed in contact with the students for the full three hours.

After 45 minutes, most of the students broke away to begin writing their stories. I opened my computer and read that Michel du Cille, a Washington Post photojournalist, had died of an apparent heart attack in Liberia at the age of 58.

I must have gasped or blurted something. A student looked up. Are you OK, Professor Hatch?

Yes, thanks. Focus on your work. I’ll explain after the exam.

I sent Gilkey a text.

He told me that the call he’d taken during the students’ interview was from Nikki Kahn, du Cille’s wife, also a Washington Post photojournalist, telling him that his friend and colleague had died.

All the students hit their 10 p.m. deadline. A number stayed late and read du Cille’s obituary posted online. We discussed his work and commitment to it.

Du Cille had received three Pulitzer Prizes for his photography, two while at The Miami Herald and one at The Washington Post. He was known for his compassion and his big heart.

“He was renowned among journalists for his ability to look inside a crisis and find enduring portraits of sorrow, dignity and perseverance” wrote Post reporter Matt Schudel.

Most recently, du Cille had focused on the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, where he had covered the civil wars in Sierra Leone and Liberia in the 1990s.

In an article in the Post in October, du Cille wrote about his experiences.

“Sometimes, the harshness of a gruesome scene simply cannot be sanitized…But I believe that the world must see the horrible and dehumanizing effects of Ebola. The story must be told; so one moves around with tender care, gingerly, without extreme intrusion.”

On Sunday night, my phone dinged with a message from JR Ancheta, a friend and former student. We’d worked together in Afghanistan.

Happy Solstice.

He sent a message with a photo of a surfer silhouetted against a lavender sky tinged with flamingo pink clouds. Returning to shore, the surfer had his board tucked under his arm, the water a band of brightness and sparkles around him.

JR was at his family home in Sitka, Alaska, when he noticed the light. He grabbed his camera and dashed to the water’s edge.

JR had been through some tough times lately. Making the dash for sunset light, photographing the twilight moment reminded him of the joy and reverence he has for photography—and the beauty that surrounds us.

It’s really easy to get stuck, JR said. The world is full of nastiness, muckiness, ugliness. We forget to see. Forget to look. Forget to find beauty.

Looking. Seeing. Finding those little snippets of beauty everywhere. Photographers find beauty in the nastiness and muckiness.

It’s a gift, JR said.

Then he surprised me with a gift.

“Thank you for teaching me to watch the sunsets—and the sunrises,” JR said.

My first column this year was about Dave Martin, an Associated Press photographer, who died on the job, at 59, of an apparent heart attack. In April, I wrote about another AP photographer, Anja Niedringhaus, assassinated in Afghanistan. She was 48. And, in my last column of 2014, I remember Michel du Cille, who died covering a story and people he cared deeply about.

Photojournalists and journalists know the risks and accept the dangers of covering a some stories. We open our eyes and our hearts to the suffering and the beauty in our world. We witness and return to bear witness.

To quote Michel du Cille: “This is what we do.”

We give our hearts—and sometimes our lives.

http://www.meadvilletribune.com/opinion/columns/giving-hearts-and-lives-to-bear-witness/article_180de8f2-8d59-11e4-b1f4-0f9521438772.html

 

Cheryl Hatch is a writer, photojournalist and visiting assistant professor of journalism in the public interest at Allegheny College.

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The human heart can only take so much

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Outside the Box

a weekly column by Cheryl Hatch

copyright 2014

Last week, after the Texas A&M/Duke bowl game, posts from my photojournalist friends started pouring into my Facebook news feed. Veteran Associated Press photographer Dave Martin had once again captured the classic image of the winning coach being doused in water

The caption would read “Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin is dunked in the closing seconds of a 52-48 win over Duke in the the Chick-fil-A Bowl NCAA college football game Tuesday, Dec. 31, 2013, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Dave Martin)”

Moments after making the image, Martin dropped on the field—dead, at 59, of an apparent heart attack.

He went by “Mullet,” after the fish not the hairstyle, according to one memorial piece. Colleagues, friends and family remember him as a generous man and great storyteller, on and off the job. A hard worker who put his heart into everything he loved: his job, his photography, his family.

In refection, I read one story that included a selection of photos from the events Martin had covered in his 30-year career with the American wire service.

As I looked through the online gallery, I marveled at the images and the scope of his accomplished career. He covered hurricanes, tornadoes, the Olympics, Super Bowls and conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq and Haiti.

I had one thought: the human heart can only take so much.

On Thursday, Dec. 12, our classes had finals: one from 2 to 5 p.m. and another from 7 to 10 p.m.  I went home, packed a suitcase and caught the flight from Erie to Houston, where my mom was undergoing unexpected heart surgery. I knew I wouldn’t make it before she went in. I darn sure wanted to be there when she came out.

There was a best-case scenario—and there were others that I wouldn’t consider and my father feared. Twelve days later, when Mom unwrapped her presents that Dad had piled under the Christmas tree, I knew our best gift wasn’t there. Our best gift is—and always has been—my mother’s resilient, tender, strong heart.

As a photojournalist, I once worked with a reporter on a story entitled “The Heart of the Matter” about a woman getting a new lease on life through open-heart surgery. The surgeon warned me there would be blood, and that many people wouldn’t be able to stomach watching—let alone photographing—the chest-cracking, blood-draining, multiple-hour procedure.

In Mogadishu, I photographed a gunshot victim as he reached up and tried to assist the medical students who were operating on him with no general anesthesia. They stood in pools of blood in a looted, dilapidated hospital. In Baidoa, I was barely an arm’s length from a gunman when he assassinated an unarmed volunteer schoolteacher at an orphanage, shooting him in the head at point-blank range. I watched the blood gush from his body.

Sure, I could handle the sight of blood.

More than a decade after Somalia, I would discover that I couldn’t handle the cumulative toll of my years as a reporter and photojournalist. I ground my teeth at night. I had debilitating migraines. I gained weight. My heart kept calling me. I kept shooting the suffering and depravity I witnessed in remote areas of the world and in American neighborhoods.

In 2003, I left my job as a staff photographer at the AP. I wanted to cover the Iraq War and there were no indications the editors would send me, even though I had experience in Iraq and combat. I had lived for years in the Middle East. I had knowledge of its history, cultures, peoples and the Arabic language. I didn’t want to miss the story of our generation, our war story.

In the end, I didn’t go to war and leaving AP did save my life. I chose a different destination. It was tough to resist the pull of the story I had abused my mind and body, especially my heart, for far too long.

I have heard the comments and questions about my life choices—the ones I made to go to war and the ones I made to stay away.

How could you leave such an exciting/glamorous/international/adventurous life for a boring one in a small town? Because my heart told me that the life I loved was killing me.

Many Allegheny students pursue their grades and degrees the way I chased stories. They live and learn on a pushed pace and under self-induced stress. Takes one to know one, as the childhood taunt goes.

Adrenaline-soaked, sleep-deprived and driven, these bright students are throwing themselves on the same pyre that burns day traders and journalists. It can be a slow burn or a fast one. If I hadn’t changed my ways and opted for healing and balance, I would have gone beyond burned out. I would have become ash.

I start each class at Allegheny with moments of silence. I invite the students to clear their desks, close their eyes and breathe. I tell them I care about their learning and their well-being. I care about their academic growth and their personal growth. I care about their minds.

And I care deeply about their young, open hearts.

Cheryl Hatch is a writer, photojournalist and visiting assistant professor of journalism in the public interest at Allegheny College.

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Weathering the storm

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A week ago, Sandy decided to turn northeast just enough to bypass Meadville in northwest Pennsylvania. The wind howled through the night and rain soaked the earth, flooding some basements; however, we never lost power.

And Allegheny College held classes on Monday.

This past week, I’ve been reading the news stories from New Jersey and New York, the states hit hardest by the storm, including some fine writing by my former Associated Press colleague Verena Dobnik.

Here’s a couple graphs from one of her stories:

“Around the metropolitan area, some of those lucky enough to escape the storm’s wrath have taken in Sandy’s displaced , friends, neighbors and colleagues who have fled their cold, dark homes in search of food, light, a hot shower and juice for their cellphones, iPads and laptops.

And the generosity toward the storm’s victims has extended well beyond the big city. In Charlotte, N.C., Brian Cockman and his partner have welcomed a revolving door of people stranded by canceled flights.”

The air waves and newspapers (and probably TV channels) have shared stories of friends, neighbors and strangers pitching in to help one another. Sharing food that would spoil. Cooking steaks on grills in the street. Offering showers and a place to sleep or work.

In 2008, I was in Houston, Texas, when Hurricane Ike hit. The power went out. Cell phones didn’t work. Neighbors found themselves gathering in the cul-de-sac. They grabbed chairs, bottles of wine and beer and brought what food they had that would spoil.

For a few nights, in spite of the hardships–in fact, because of the hardships–the neighbors spent their evenings together, sharing food and stories well past sunset. The family who had a landline let people call loved ones to let them know they were doing just fine.

As soon as the power returned, the neighbors retreated to their air-conditioned patio homes. The garage doors stayed closed and the neighborhood block-party vanished.

As I listen to the stories of generosity and kindness in the aftermath of Sandy, I am heartened; and yet, all too soon, it’s likely life will return to normal: conversations on glowing screens “connecting” us rather than conversations around a candlelit table or over a grill in the street.

In times of trouble and adversity, we do remember ourselves, our best selves, our true selves. I share the sentiments of Chrissie Hynde, lead singer of The Pretenders, in the song “Message of Love.”

“Now the reason we’re here/as man and woman/is to love each other/take care of each other/when love walks into the room/everybody stand up..”

So, yes, it’s a sexy song. It’s also a beautiful song, complete with a quote from “Lady Windermere’s Fan” by Oscar Wilde.

The sentiment rings true, though sometimes in the daily rush and crush of our lives, filled with hand-held devices instead of hand-holding, we may forget the most obvious and important thing in our lives: each other.

We are here to help each other, take care of each other.

Class Photo

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Junior and broadcast major Ashley poses front and center (with O magazine) with her classmates in our JRN 421 Journalism in Perspective class. I asked each student to pick a professional journalist whose career he or she admires. Ashley picked Oprah Winfrey–and invited her to visit our classroom via Skype.

This term we’ve already conducted a Skype interview with Jodie Steck in Texas, who is the former assistant director of photography at the White House and a former national editor with the Associated Press. Today we interviewed Daryl Mitchell, a news photographer with KPTV-12 in Portland, Oregon. We have other professionals who’ve agreed to share their stories and advice, including a still photographer who covers conflict and a sports reporter who covers college basketball. Skype is a great tool that allows us to bring people to our remote classroom in the interior of Alaska.

And we hope Oprah will be our finale–our final is December 16 at 10 a.m.

I’ve told my students that curiosity and persistence are mandatory attributes for successful journalists. Ashley’s classmates laughed out loud at her when she selected Oprah for her professional profile.

Now they’re standing behind her–literally and figuratively.